Everything feels different on the road. When you’re touring, you’re like a player on a sports team and each show is a game in the season. From load in to load out, you’re working together as a cohesive unit to accomplish the same goal: to put on the best show every night. Whether you’re a performer, tour manager, stage crew, photographer, merchandise seller, etc., you are all teammates and share the same driving force. It’s really hard to describe what it feels like but you’re essentially in a different mindset, where information from the outside world seems a bit harder to grasp because you’re so focused on the game. On the road, you of course have distractions and you have fun, but in the end it’s your job and your passion. And it can be a long, long season. Eventually, it all comes to an end and there’s a finale with hard goodbyes. These are the people you struggled with, you grew with and no one really understands that bond in the outside world. They really are your, teammates. You wonder, will I see these people again? Will I get invited to come back? Who’s going to change teams and who will stay? And worst of all, you wonder, was that the ”prime” of my career and it’s all just downhill from here?
I can honestly say touring is the most fun job I’ve ever had but the adjustment and transition periods back into the real world after, have been some of the hardest and, oftentimes, the most depressing experiences of my life.
A little bit on me, my name’s Ryan Watanabe and I just graduated from college. Within the past 12 months, I’ve done four tours while still in school, the most prevalent being the 2016 Vans Warped Tour where I primarily shot for Oceans Ate Alaska, but ended up additionally working with Sleeping With Sirens, Yellowcard, Sum 41, Good Charlotte and Gideon.
When I got off of Warped Tour in August, needless to say, I was on a high. I felt like our team had just won the championship and the world had opened up. But, a few weeks later, I was back in my same classrooms, in my same apartment, and back to my same college life. Shows are exciting; there’s buildup, a climax and a celebration afterwards every day. Every day felt like the most exciting one because it was always filled with a new city, new people and constantly being surrounded by music night after night. When you’re back in the real world, it’s just that, it’s real. Tour ends and then you have to resume the life you seemingly paused. Sure, you can go to shows and see friends as they pass through town, but you don’t have your teammates…it’s the offseason for you. You are alone. You try to explain tour stories to your home friends but either they don’t really care because they have their own life, or they just can’t grasp it because they weren’t there.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I became depressed once I went home following that tour. I thought it was boredom, but it wasn’t, I wasn’t the same person. I put too much of myself into my work – it was all I thought about. It was my first tour so I wanted to do the best job I was physically capable of, and in doing so I fell out of contact with my family, my friends and my girlfriend. Too much of anything isn’t good for you, and I put too much of my mind exclusively on my work, to the point where I damaged my mental health. Depression is defined and different for every individual and this is only my personal experience. I’m not a person who has had a lot of experience with mental health so I wasn’t able to see what was going on. I was constantly frustrated with everything and everyone. I broke up with my girlfriend because I was a bitter, unhappy with myself and where I was at, and a miserable person to be around. (Don’t worry, we’re back together now, there is a happy ending!) Before really facing what I was dealing with, I only felt brief moments of clarity – when I went to shows and felt that similar rush. When I wasn’t in class or at a show, I indulged myself in anything that would numb me, distract my mind or make me feel something. This is something that, while I’m able to recognize, I still struggle with. The ending is happier but not perfect, I still mentally lock myself out and it definitely can lead me down a dark path but I try to to keep myself above water.
It took me a lot of time to realize that I needed balance in my life. I didn’t realize I was overworking. It simply got away from me. Call your family, fill them in on what’s going on, even the monotonous stuff, they really do care and they do want to know. People can only come into your life as much as you let them. I now know that I need my friends and family. I need to have things to look forward to when I go home. Work is not everything in your life, and it if is, you will lose yourself. Since all of that, I have made sure to stay active within my community and friends when I’m off tour. I take much better care of my health and I’ve learned to balance the important things in my life. Maybe most important of all, I remembered why I do the work I do: I love music. It’s what makes me happy and it’s my outlet just as much as it is to the fans in the crowd. It’s important to be happy, it’s important to be balanced, and it’s important to stay true to yourself.
Now, it’s onto the next tour, the next season. For me, I need to practice and not just show up for game time expecting it all to be there. Because while I’m out on the road, there’s another creative individual who’s practicing, learning new techniques and trying to elevate their level. I want that to always be me too. There will always be a next season if you’re willing to work for it, you’ll have new teammates and old teammates, there will be good games and bad, and while it’s terrifying because you don’t know how long your season will run, it’s always worth chasing something bigger than yourself.